The bench press is the best all-around upper body exercise. It promotes upper body muscular development and strength building. A lot of people think of it as a chest exercise. However, it’s more than that. It also works your shoulders, back and even glutes. Moreover, biceps also play a role. This makes it a technically demanding exercise that can be disastrous if you do it wrong. So if you want to improve your technique, here are a few tips on how to do bench press with proper form.
How To Bench Press With Proper Form
Position your Body
Lie down on the weight bench with the bar directly above your eyes. However, you can also adjust the body positioning depending on your build and mechanics. Just make sure that you can easily unrack and that the bar won’t hit the pegs on the way up.
Your butt, shoulders and head should be flat on the bench.
Position Your Feet
Place your feet flat on the ground relatively wide apart. Your feet should never be in the air or on the bench.
You can place the feet either tucked behind you or more out in front. The first option allows for the largest overall arch but the drawback is that it’s difficult to keep the feet flat on the floor in this position, so you’ll probably be on your toes. As a result, you don’t get much leg drive.
The most popular technique and the one that is recommended for beginners is the second one. If you place your feet out in front of you, you’ll still get a good arch and will also get a more solid interface with the ground. You can keep the whole foot on the ground and get better leg drive. So for this technique, pull your feet as far back towards your butt as you can while still keeping them flat on the ground. They should end up somewhere between your knees and hips.
Get Tight And Arch Your Back
First of all, the shoulder blades should be retracted. Imagine that you’re trying to hold a pencil between them. This will increase the stability of your shoulders and will also help reduce the range of motion.
Secondly, your entire body should be tight. Tighten your core, glutes and quads. Squeeze your butt and drive your feet into the ground. Your body should feel like one solid unit and you should keep this tightness throughout the entire movement.
You also want your arch to be slightly bent. It will help you maintain a neutral spine during the bench press and will keep the back tight and protected. If you’re not into powerlifting, you don’t the exaggerated arch, which should be used only if you’ve been benching for a long time and know what you’re doing. At the same time, your back shouldn’t be flat.
With your shoulder blades squeezed together, raise your chest towards the ceiling. Arch your lower back but make sure that the butt is still on the bench. Squeeze your lats and your chest will be locked in position.
Proper Bench Press Grip
Once you’ve got a proper bench press form, you’re ready to grab the bar. It should be positioned as close to the heel of the palm as possible. This will keep the wrist from hyperextending. If you place the bar too high in your hand, it can bend your wrist backward and cause injury.
Make sure that the thumb is wrapped securely around the bar. Never use a thumbless grip, which is often nicknamed the “suicide grip”. When doing heavy weights, it’s far too easy for the bar to slip out of your hands and fall on your body.
The grip should also be slightly wider than shoulder-width. However, it can also depend on your body type and goals. For example, if you have wider arms, it’s natural to have a wider grip. If you’re doing competitive powerlifting, you’ll also choose a wider grip. Moreover, a wider grip emphasizes pecs and narrower grip focuses on triceps.
So you can start with a grip that is about shoulder-width and then as you get more comfortable with the movement, you can change it for personal preference.
Unrack the Bar
Squeeze the bar as hard as you can and unrack it. Keep your shoulders back and the body tight. Press the bar off the pins and position it directly over your shoulders. Make sure that you’re doing it in arms extended position. Don’t move low over your mouth and neck. Also, don’t lower the bar to your chest in an incline as this puts you in a weak position.
Before you start lowering the bar, check that the wrists are not bent back excessively. Grip it lower in your hand and squeeze it really hard, which will naturally activate your wrist flexors.
Lower the Bar
Before you lower the bar, take in a deep breath and hold it. This increases pressure in your torso and helps your body to stay tight and stable.
Next, start lowering the bar with control. Don’t go too fast. If you lower it slower, it’ll be easier to control the weight. You can think about bending the bar into a “U” shape, which will help you better control the descent.
Another thing to remember is to properly tuck the elbows. They shouldn’t be flared out or too close to the torso. Both of these mistakes can cause shoulder pain. The shoulders should be at about a 45-60 degrees angle to the torso. Your forearms should also be vertical to the floor.
At the bottom, the bar should touch the lower part of your chest, right under the nipple line. However, the exact position will depend on your build and grip. For example, if you have longer arms and you’re using a narrow grip, the bar will touch your chest further down.
Once the bar has touched your chest, initiate at once the upward movement. Don’t pause at the bottom because it will make it harder to bench.
Press the bar away from your body by driving yourself into the bench. Utilize the leg drive by pressing your feet into the ground. This will help you to stay tight and maximize upward force.
In the top position, the bar should end up right where you began – over your shoulders.
You should also breathe out forcefully once you’ve locked the weight over your shoulders or at least when nearing lockout. Then, as you lower the bar for the next rep, take in a deep breath again.
Re-Rack the Bar
Once you’ve finished your last rep, you can re-rack the bar. Finish the rep with the bar directly over your shoulders and then move the bar backward to the uprights.
Now you have the tools to improve your bench press technique. Perfecting your bench press form might not happen overnight but over time you’ll be able to get better at it. It’s better to start light with the weight of your bench press and as you learn to do it with proper form, you can add more weights to the bar.